From the ARCADE Issue 34.2 feature, “Architectures of Migration: A Survey of Displacements, Routes, and Arrivals.” Articles from the issue will release online over the following weeks. Subscribe to receive ARCADE in print.

Saba Innab Untitled 1

Saba Innab Untitled 1

Untitled I, Series of 50 × 65 cm collages of aerial photos of Nahr el Bared from 1950 to 2013. Sources: 1950, 1968, 1994, and 2007 maps from the Lebanese Army; 2013 map from Google Maps. This exercise shows the relationship between power, authority, and data making. The 2007 aerial photo was taken by the army during the battles with Fath al Islam just before the camp’s demolition. It is a very comprehensive, precise picture. The 2013 aerial photo (above) from Google Maps shows empty land six years after the conflict’s end.

In 2007, the Lebanese Army demolished Nahr el Bared, a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon, after an armed conflict with the Islamist fundamentalist group Fath al Islam. 30,000 refugees were displaced to the adjacent camp and cities. 

The idea of reconstructing the destroyed camp held revolutionary potential—the possibility of empowering the refugees and rethinking both this camp and others like it. However, the Lebanese state and army gradually became involved in the process, imposing their vision of security through planning. For me, an architect working on the reconstruction, the question transformed from how to rebuild a camp into how to dwell, live, and even die in a state of suspension, in waiting.

Saba Innab Blueprint II

Saba Innab Blueprint II

Blueprint (II), Wooden model, composed of 1 cm wooden cubes (dimensions variable) and ink drawing on canvas (two pieces, 320 × 100 cm and 220 × 100 cm). The two objects in this piece create a fictional space that rethinks architecture and building. This exercise is inspired by the legacy of radical and utopian architecture but with a different point of departure. While the model hovers, suggesting a space in between a utopia and a dystopia, the drawing on the facing wall represents the possibility of such a place, as if it were built.

Whether Palestinians have Jordanian passports, bringing an illusion of stability, live without rights as refugees in Lebanon, or are part of a diaspora of millions spanning generations, the persistence of their displacement and the Palestinian question remains attached to the right of return—to Palestine before the establishment of Israel in 1948. Until then, any form of dwelling is temporary.

My ongoing series of artworks How to Build Without a Land considers the relationship of construction and land to time—to temporariness that gradually transforms or deforms into durability. This project presents a spatial narrative of what it means to dwell in a time of increased deterritorialization and alienation or, more specifically, in the absence of the land of Palestine. How do we build temporariness when it is mutating constantly into a permanent state? How do we dwell and build without a land?

Saba Innab Untitled II

Saba Innab Untitled II

Untitled II, 450 × 50 cm carbon drawing. In this piece, based on Google Maps, I’ve retraced in a single long line Palestine’s borders with Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. The text underneath the map is an etymological deconstruction of the word “سكن,” or “dwell” in Arabic. The root of the word has two meanings: to “remain or stay in peace” and “being still.”  This linguistic complexity reveals an impossibility of dwelling; we can only dwell at the end of things or when we die.